THE WILD SIDE
By Maria de Bruyn
Late summer and early autumn are wonderful times to walk in woods and meadows. The fall season will begin with the autumn equinox, a 24-hour period when day and night are equal in length. Our autumn equinox is on September 22 this year.
This time of year, there is plenty to see on a walk when you look for wildlife in addition to enjoying the fall foliage. When you look very closely at the grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees, you can develop an eye for the insect and arthropod world that enthralls entomologists. Since I began contributing photos to the BugGuide website, my appreciation for bugs has grown a lot!
When you stop to look closely at plant leaves and stems, you can see various insects and spiders. Some are very tiny, so getting a close-up view with your phone can be helpful. The typical leafhoppers are abundant right now, and they may look just like black specks on a plant—they are only about one-third the size of your smallest fingernail.
A somewhat larger plant resident is the jumping spider. They can be as big as your largest fingernail. The jumper pictured above has eight eyes, which scientists have studied intensively. The large pair at the front of the spider’s face has the sharpest vision but a limited range. The second pair on either side of the central eyes has a broader view and detects motion; if they are covered, the spider cannot track a moving object!
The third pair of eyes is thought to see motion behind the spider, and scientists have not yet determined what the fourth pair of eyes does. (For more information on animal vision and other senses, I highly recommend the book An Immense World by Ed Yong.)
This time of year, the green lynx spiders are preparing to lay their eggs, which they will guard closely until hatching. They are eating a lot as they will be rooted to one spot when they guard the egg sac, which contains about 200 eggs. The lynx spider you see above got herself a large meal when she caught a double-banded scoliid wasp.
Another spider you may encounter as you walk about is the marbled orbweaver. They are fascinating to watch as they spin large webs between tree and shrub branches–or across paths! They guide the silk emerging from their spinnerets to just the right spot to create their circular webs.
If you haven’t the time or patience to look for the smaller bugs, you can still enjoy the ones that are a bit bigger, like the butterflies. There are still a few summer azures fluttering around and they color nicely with the deep green plants.
You need to watch underfoot, too, when you’re walking. A Northern pearly-eye butterfly was resting on leaf litter on one of my walks. I almost stepped on an Eastern shield-backed katydid, a species I had not seen before. (Many katydids are green and perch on flower stems.) I was also glad to have looked down so that I didn’t step on a beautiful milkweed tussock moth caterpillar making its way across the path.
Even when we’re careful, though, not all the insects will die a natural death since the birds are eating a lot in preparation for migration or the coming winter. Since spiders are now quite active, they are not difficult prey either.
To provide the remaining bugs with a chance for future generations, I once again ask that you please consider retaining leaves in your yard. You can rake them into piles around trees and shrubs if you don’t care to have them all over your yard. And you can put up a sign to inform your neighbors and passersby about how you are contributing to a healthy ecosystem. Enjoy the coming month of milder weather!
Maria de Bruyn participates in several nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the Orange County Senior Center, coordinates a nature-themed book club, posts on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/bruynmariade/) and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at https://mybeautifulworldblog.com.